Our Very Consequential Mouths


One of the most consistent teachings of the Book of Proverbs is that actions have consequences, whether for good or bad. This teaching applies to what we say as well. Our mouths, we might say, are very consequential.
 
Proverbs 18:20-21 outlines the awesome power of our words.
 
From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
 
One of the most basic functions of speech is to tell the truth, and Proverbs is clear on the contrasting outcomes of truth and lies.
 
A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
and a flattering mouth works ruin (26:28).
 
Notice, in this proverb, that “a lying tongue” is parallel to “a flattering mouth.” Flattery, in other words, is a form of deception which does harm to our neighbor by giving him a false picture of our regard for him.
 
Whoever flatters his neighbor
is spreading a net for his feet (29:5).
 
If flattery is dishonest praise, then slander is dishonest criticism, and Proverbs 10:18 clearly condemns it.
 
He who conceals his hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool.
 
Another form of deception, which does more harm than a simple lie, flattery, and slander is perjury – lying under oath in court.
 
A truthful witness does not deceive,
but a false witness pours out lies (14:5).
 
A truthful witness saves lives,
but a false witness is deceitful (14:25).
 
What makes perjury particularly heinous is that a false witness intentionally deceives the court precisely in order to do harm to his neighbor.
 
So far, we have examined three forms of speech that do harm to others. But Proverbs is quite clear that lying harms the liar too.
 
A man of perverse heart does not prosper;
he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble (17:20).
 
An evil man is trapped by his sinful talk,
but a righteous man escapes trouble (12:13).
 
The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life,
but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit (15:4).
 
Perjury in particular is bad for the false witness, who will be punished in this life – or in the next.
 
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who pours out lies will not go free (19:5).
 
A false witness will not go unpunished,
and he who pours out lies will perish (19:9).
 
By contrast, truthful speech is a blessing to one’s self and to others. Proverbs 12:14 tells us:
 
From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things
as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.
 
And Proverbs 24:26 adds:
 
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.
 
It should go without saying that there are more forms of speech than truthtelling and lying. Our words advise, inform, inspire, and encourage, among other things. But the most basic kind of speech is the one that conforms to reality. And when we tell the truth, God blesses us. So, tell the truth!

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